Supermajority roadmap: Backers have until Wednesday to get 60% amendment on August ballot

By: - May 9, 2023 4:50 am

COLUMBUS, OH — JANUARY 03: Newly elected Ohio House Speaker Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) is congratulated at the opening day ceremonies of the 135th General Assembly of the State of Ohio, January 3, 2023, in the House Chamber at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

It’s a big week for lawmakers attempting to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments in an August special election. The House could vote on a joint resolution sending the question to the ballot as soon as Wednesday. But the legislation setting up the August election is in limbo.

The joint resolutions

Lawmakers in the House and the Senate have advanced joint resolutions to ask voters whether to require a 60% supermajority to adopt future constitutional amendments. Those resolutions need to get 3/5 support in both chambers, but they’re at different stages in the process.

The Senate measure, SJR 2, has passed the Senate and its committee stop in the House. The only step left is a vote on the House floor. Meanwhile, the House measure, HJR 1, has yet to get a vote from the full House and would need Senate approval.

That’s why the Republican state central committee on Friday urged House lawmakers to coalesce behind SJR 2.

“The message we’re trying to convey is that we have until May 10 to get this out of the House because resolutions don’t require governor’s signature,” central committee member Gary Cates explained. “So the House passes SJR 2, (and) we’re done with that portion of it.”

The August election

That May 10 deadline rushing up to greet them has to do with plans to put the question to voters in August. When the general assembly proposes an amendment, it has to be filed with the Ohio Secretary of State 90 days before the election. May 10 is lawmakers’ last chance if they want to hold an election on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August.

But another big problem is that, as of right now, there’s no way for lawmakers to hold an August election for their amendment. Late last year, they scrapped August elections arguing they’re too costly and yield poor turnout. When they missed the deadline to get the supermajority amendment on the May primary ballot some lawmakers had a change of heart.

Legislation to allow general assembly amendments in August raced through the Senate, but bogged down in the House. Last week, the House Government Oversight committee twice cancelled hearings where lawmakers were slated to vote on the proposal.

After the second cancellation, state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, acknowledged the August portion of the plan might not have the votes.

“I believe there is a path forward for the (60% supermajority) resolution — without specifying the August date,” he explained.

What happens next?

Government Oversight is set to meet Tuesday, but the August elections measure isn’t on the agenda. Barring a last-minute change, it’s doubtful the bill will advance through the committee in time.

In a text message, HJR 1 sponsor state Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, acknowledged there isn’t enough time to bypass the committee through what’s known as a discharge petition. Stewart maintained some hope, however, that the “substance” of the August elections measure could advance in some other bill.

Also Tuesday, the House Rules and Reference committee will set the agenda for Wednesday’s session. House Speaker Jason Stephens, who chairs the committee, may or may not put one of the supermajority resolutions on the calendar.

Already, outside political organizations have sprung up with ads urging Stephens and a handful of other GOP lawmakers to support the 60% resolutions or to oppose them. Meanwhile, the leaders of a coalition of 240 Ohio groups opposing the effort have announced a “day of action” Wednesday to voice opposition to an August election and the supermajority resolutions.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.


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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.